In the sequence of visual perception our brain sees color after it registers a shape and before it reads content.
Choosing the right color for a company logo is about as important as choosing the right font and there is a science behind that—which is called “the sequence of cognition”.
The sequence of cognition is just a fancy way of saying how our brain recognizes and interprets sensory stimuli.
When we look at logos, the brain acknowledges and remembersshapesfirst.
Then the colorcomessecond, and then lastly we decodewords as it takes a bit more time to process the language.
This simply means that if you see logos from far away, or they’re blurred, or you just see them for a millisecond—Then you will recognize distinctive shape first, next you will register color and lastly you will read the brand name.
Therefore, the logo color (besides its shape) can be used as a mnemonicdevise—It helps people remember and then identify brands just by the color alone.
For example: When you see a browntruck out of the corner of your eye, you know it is a UPS truck.
Another example would be—when you see someone walking down the street with a little turquoiseshoppingbag—you know it is a Tiffany bag.
Or when you walk into a store and look at the fridge—you can spot Coca-Cola and its distinctive redlabel from far away.
As you can tell, we—logo designers are in the business of managing that perception.
That's why brand colors need to be chosen carefully, not only to build brand awareness, but also to express differentiation.
2. The psychology of color
Our response to a color is based on our lifeexperiences and cultural associations, but the meaning of color can change from culture to culture.
Color can trigger an emotion and evoke an association.
However, there are certainrules that can applyglobally—Check out this simple image that illustrates the psychology of color:
Now, let’s discuss each color shortly together with their common uses and some examples of famous brands.
The Meaning of Colors:
Yellow is a cheerful and energetic color, it generally evokes positive emotions like happiness or optimism.
That’s why yellowcolor is commonly used in branding for kids—think of McDonald’s (the fast-food for kids) or Snapchat (the social media for the youth).
However, yellow can be also associated with safety and caution—think of construction signs and brands like Caterpillar or Stanley.
Green is a very fresh and natural color, it often communicates ideas of growth, health, and all-natural qualities.
And the “natural” and “organic” aspect explain why green is commonly used in the logos of brands like Starbucks or Whole Foods.
However, green can also stand for good luck and financial stability and wealth—for example TD Bank or Quickbooks.
Orange, as the name suggest is the color of orange (the fruit)—that’s why juice brands like Tropicana use it a lot in their packaging (although their logo is blue for contrast).
Because the orange color is so bright, it makes is ideal for traffic barrels, reflective vests, and other safety equipment—that’s why the HomeDepot logo is orange.
Blue is all about qualities like cleanliness and purity and that’s why we can see so much blue being used in the packaging of the majority of bottled water brands—Think of Fiji or Dasani.
Besides water, blue is also associated with sky and fresh air, so therefore it connects to the idea of cleanliness.
That's why so many brands use blue for a pure, almost medicalfeel—Think of Nivea, or Oral-B.
Blue has also become a very safe, predictable and somewhat conservativecolor choice for corporate brands because it communicates honesty and loyalty—think of Chase bank, or IBM.
Purple is often associated with royalty, fantasy, and flowers—That’s why the purple color is used in the Hallmark logo, for example.
Because of these associations, purple feels often feminine—think of brands like Always.
Purple color has been also adapted recently as a newtrend among media and techcompanies—think of Twitch, for example.
Red is often connected to the human body—think of heart, lips, tongue, but also emotions like love and romance.
In branding, red is often used by healthcare related companies—think of CVS or Wallgreens and this is due to its connection to blood.
Red is also often used by food companies—like Pizza Hut and KFC because red suggests heat or something beinghot and it also doubles here as a reference to tomatoes and red sauce.
As you can see—choosing a color for your new identity requires some core understanding of color theory.
3. Using color for differentiation
Besides understanding color theory, you need to also have a clear vision of how the brand can be differentiated from competitors—You can use color to facilitate recognition and build brand equity.
Use a color that can evoke moods & emotions you're trying to convey.
For example, mostbanks and other brands in financial sector use shades of blue color in their logos—but TD Bank took a different approach and went with green for differentiation in this blue saturated space.
Now let’s discuss each color again but this time in the context of differentiation (and with some examples of course).
Using color for differentiation:
The National Geographic logo is yellow but the brand has nothing to do with kids or happiness.
I mean yes you can tie the exploration and traveling with happiness but this is a bit of a stretch.
So in this case yellow is used more for differentiation rather than based on color psychology.
And the yellow framed magazine is so recognizable that the company is able to use just a blank yellow box as their logo!
The green color in branding usually means environmentally and ecologically friendly.
However, in America, our paper currency is green, so we connect the greencolor with financialproducts and services.
That’s why we’ve got some green logos in the financial sector as well: like TD Bank for example or Quickbooks.
Also not all green looks the same, so that dark green with gold works great for Rolex to create that luxurious look & feel.
The HomeDepot has one of the most famous orange logos.
The founders said that they chose orange for their branding and specifically for their famous orange aprons because they wanted the salespeople to stand out like beacons within the warehouse-style stores.
Just like a safety cone or vest draws your attention and tells you to be alert, The Home Depot has used that bright orange to bring quick attention to their team members (so they use it for distinctiveness).
We have way too many blue logos out there, so that blue might NOT be a good choice if you’re looking to differentiate your brand.
The blue color became predictable and somewhat a conservative choice for corporate branding.
However, not all blue looks the same so if you move it closer to green or purple you can create a unique color while still making it a safe and likable choice.
Probably the most well-known purple corporate brand is FedEx.
FedEx pairs the purple with other colors including orange, green, blue and red to distinguish their different business divisions.
Taco Bell is an unusual usage of purple in their logo and branding.
Earlier versions of their logo used red, yellow and green to represent meat, cheese and lettuce—the primary ingredients of traditional tacos.
Then Taco Bell introduced its latest purple logo in 2016 and the color was chosen to show their fresh and novel approach to Mexican food.
Many big brands use the red color in their logos just because It feels bold and energetic.
These brands are not making specific references to blood, health or food, but they recognize that the red color conveys powerful and energetic emotions.
Just think of Coca-Cola, they chose red because it’s an energetic and lively color and they basically managed to own this color in the category.
So as you can see you can use the color either because of its meaning, or because you believe it will make you stand out among competitors (so for differentiation or distinctiveness).
4. Using color for brand architecture
It’s also important to know that while sometimes colors are used to unify an identity, other times the color can be used to differentiate business lines within a company.
Colors can be used functionally to clarify brand architecture.
Just look at the example of FedExbrandarchitecture below—the orange stands for the highenergy and speed of air transportation; the green color stands for groundservices; the blue is a corporatecolor so it was chose for their officedivision and so on.
In this case families of color are developed to support a broad range of company's communications needs.
You need to take that into consideration—examine the benefits and disadvantages of:
Using color to differentiateproducts
Using color to identifybusinesslines
Using color to categorizeinformation
As you can, designers can use color for different purposes: to evoke emotions or associations, to differentiate the company, or to support brand architecture.
5. How to choose a logo color
Now, let me give you some tips on how to choose a color for your logo because color can often be subjective so it can be tricky for designers to work with color.
Select colors that represent moods & emotions you're trying to convey.
A client may arbitrary demand a specific color or reject another based on some irrelevant reasons—So what differentiates professionals from amateurs is the research.
First, you need to do some color research and look for what colors link to your industry.
Next, you need to look at your brand strategy and find colors that will represent the moods and emotions that you’re trying to convey. (Consider color psychology here).
Lastly, you simply need to make a decision as to what color would be the most appropriate for that brand.
For example: In my recent work for Medihuanna, we went with dark green color for the word-mark and a much brighter green for the leaflet symbol (green represents nature).
Then, I also chose complimentary colors: like the beige color for example (which stands for credibility).
Usually, we assign the primary color to the symbol, and the secondary color to the logotype, business descriptor, or a tagline.
But it all depends on the type of logo you have, but in general—try to stick with 1 or 2, max 3 colors for your logo.
And of course there are some brands that break this rule successfully (like Google for example), but for the most part this is a good starting point.
6. How to create color palettes
Besides choosing the primary colors, we can also create color schemes to support a broad range of communications needs.
Choose complementary colors to support the identity system.
While developing your color palettes, it's important test how they work together, and if there is enough contrast between them.
You must often test things out to see how the logo can be used on color backgrounds—for example: can you reverse the colors? (Is there enough contrast between them).
Or perhaps you should keep your logo in just a solid color, for example—always solid white logo is used on color backgrounds (like in my logo example above).
It often comes down to testing you designs and then adjusting colors to find the right combination that works for you best (You can use color palette generators in this step).
Simply play with the different color values like the hue, saturation, shade and so on—until you arrive on something that looks good.
Yet another important consideration here is the reproduction of colors—meaning, will the colors look good in digital as well as in print?
For example: if your brand is primarily digital (like Twitch for example) you might want to go with a very bright and distinctpurple.
Which is a color from RGBspace, but it probably wouldn’t look as consistent in print—as it is not available in CMYK color space.
So as you can see, color is affected by various reproduction methods—that's why we need to always test them out.
Just remember—Every logo designer’s challenge isto unify colorsacrossallmedia: packaging, printing, signage, and digital—so that the logo always look consistent, no matter where it is being used.
Color is an important consideration when in comes to designing logos and every designer needs make an informeddecision and be able to explainthechoices.
Color is a very powerful branding tool—you use it with purpose.
Although it can be a bit difficult to choose the right color for your logo—Especially, if you insist on something because it looks cool, not because it's right for the business.
For example—If you, as a designer, describe the logic for using a certain color as ""nice" it is the probably the first step to rejection and disagreement.
On the other hand—If you can explain that you chose this specific color because it communicates, for example: “optimism” and “warmth” and this is based on associations from 10,000 years of human culture—this may lead to client’s approval.